Please note: The travel described here occurred in the past. Today, I do not recommend that anyone who is, or may possibly be, pregnant travel to this state. A miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy cannot be safely treated under this state’s current laws. Please care for yourself and travel to places where your life and health are valued.

Red Calves In Spring

When we lived in North Dakota, I often found tranquil comfort in a drive to the far end of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Of course, it’s North Dakota, so for at least half of the year, the far end of the North Unit remains unreachable. When the road does finally open each year, it’s a great time to get away from the house and enjoy the amazing vistas of the Little Missouri River. Any journey to a national park guarantees as much. My first visit to this particular national park included an overnight in the campground in mid-September, and a wait through the traffic jam that is bison meandering along the single roadway.

Getting into the park and down the road shortly after the winter melt, however, includes the benefit of seeing what the bison have been up to during the winter: gestation. In the spring, the young calves bounce and frolic like any young livestock exploring the world, except they are free to roam, including in the road. On one spring outing, I saw a mid-size bison strolling up the hillside to my right, and a line of herd members following suit. When one of the larger members of the parade stopped in the middle of the road to block the traffic, I knew the good stuff was coming. Sure enough, the littlest members of the herd bounded and wandered across the road, somewhat following the lead of the more experienced leaders, but also just taking advantage of their curiosity to explore the spaces and scenery around them. So, I sit and wait, delighted by the view.

Two Rules

It’s once again baby bison season, but not just in the other Dakota (see The Other Dakota from May 2020), but at Wind Cave National Park, and down the road at the local bison farm, and at Custer State Park (see State Parking from January 2023) in the southern Black Hills. Why not take a weekend in spring to check out the baby bison? Custer State Park is packed to the gills in peak season, especially along the Wildlife Loop Road, but early May offers more red claves and fewer cars – two of my favorite sights. When I first saw bison at the National Bison Range (see Beautiful Beasts from February 2012), seeing large bulls feels exhilarating, but when on the prowl for the little ones, who cares about the big guns? Yet for the first long, stretch, that’s all I can see.

Then we cruise around a corner, bumble over a cattle guard, and we see one. And another. Within a mile, dozens of baby bison – bisonettes, if you will – are prancing over the uneven prairies, bounding over the tiniest creeks, and hoofin’ it as if they’ve been strutting around the planet for more than a few days. Sure, they may look like cows at this point, but there’s something different about the reddish ones. The moms don’t mind all the gawkers like me as long as we stay in our vehicles and don’t pester the little ones. Rule number one is, of course, don’t pet the fluffy cows, but rule number two must be try not to fall in love with the cuties and want to take them home. Good luck with that second one.

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